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Showing posts from 2014

Home for the Holidays

Sitting at home, with our cats, is where we will be this holiday season. It beats being out and about this week, as Christmas approaches. I have no desire to be among crowds of people or driving in heavy traffic. Peace and quiet are what my wife and I both want. Books, movies, the fireplace, the cats. That's a good holiday week. There are people who love the holidays, the lights, the sounds, the shopping, the large gatherings and parties. Not us. A new year approaches. There's no optimism, or pessimism, only acceptance that the year will be whatever it will be. As you get older, the holidays are memories of the past and recollections of what we once dreamed the future might be. What is doesn't quite match the what we hoped would be. What I do like about the holidays: cookies. Okay, I like cookies all the time. Still, the holidays are a reason to bake extra cookies and try new recipes. Related articles Normalcy is Good

Jerks are Jerks

Your disability does not give you the right to be a jerk. This isn't going to please some advocates, but I am tired of people willing to exploit their challenges to get their way and push others around in the workplace, in school, or in public settings. Jerks exist, with and without special needs, and I am convinced that a jerk is a jerk, period, but one willing to use a challenge to gain leverage does harm to the cause of advocates and other disabled people. I'll be the first to admit that some people will judge those of us asking for any accommodations as jerks. I've been told that it isn't fair or isn't reasonable if I ask for a trackball instead of a mouse or if I ask for an office lamp (or bring my own) so I can dim the overhead fluorescent bulbs. I get that asking for anything different leads some coworkers to feel you're getting special treatment. That's also why I believe workspaces should be flexible, so everyone can create whatever space work

Surviving An Overloaded Schedule

As readers know, blogging frequency varies with live events and schedules. This semester, my schedule allows little time for blogging — or even taking much needed breaks to recharge my body and mind. The list of activities remains long, as always. I've mentioned my to-do list many times on this blog and the list never seems to shorten. Don't misunderstand: I love teaching and the opportunity to teach extra courses enables my wife and me to pay down some debts and create a little safety net. But, an overload means no time for blogging, creative writing, gardening, or other hobbies. Forget projects I've long wanted to complete. For any teacher, three or more hours of lecturing and office hours without a break would be exhausting. It is draining to "perform" for 90 students, 30 per class, three days a week (MWF). The classes have personalities, too, which are difficult for me to interpret and address some days. The other two days, I teach one 80-minute class

Barriers and Space

One of my personality quirks is that I like clear delineation of "my space" in the world. I don't like fuzzy barriers between the bits of the world I occupy and the rest of (human) world. I don't mind if my yard leads into a forest. That's great. But I do want to know where my yard ends and the neighbors' yards begin. I want lines drawn, nice and clear lines that clarify my responsibility. Admittedly, I also want others to know… "Hey, I'm not responsible for whatever you see over there!" The same is true at work. I like my desk to be… mine. I like my desk clean, my filing cabinets organized, and my books shelves by topic and then alphabetical. Don't enter my space without asking, and definitely don't return books to be helpful — other people never seem to place them back in order! Controlling my space, and wanting it as perfect as possible, is more than preference. It borders on a need — a desire to have a little bit of order and

ASDs, Anger, Violence... Advocacy

I am faced with conflicting impulses: positive advocacy vs. negative reality. Like many advocates, I wish to remind people that most autistics are not violent, bullies, or any more "risky" than other people in classrooms or workplaces. If anything, people with special needs are more likely to be bullied and to be victims of violence in various forms, from verbal abuse to physical abuse. But, I have met students (and adults) who engage in self-harm, have violent outbursts, and are a genuine risk to others. When you see a young person throw things, pull hair, scratch skin, and scream, it is impossible to deny that some small number of autistic individuals need some sort of cautious, caring, protection from their own actions. The problem is, I'm not sure how to balance the need to protect with the message I wish to promote as an advocate.

Better for Me, Better for (My) Students

Perfection and compulsive organization drive me to over-prepare for the courses I teach. I've found that some instructors, especially at the college and university level, are comfortable with a loose seminar approach to teaching, I like to have lots of notes, outlines, slides, and handouts. Without the structure, I would be easily distracted or my pacing wouldn't fit the class meeting time limitations. I post most, but not all, of my notes online for students. Having the slides and handouts gives them a chance to review materials covered in class, something I would value as a student. Because I'm a perfectionist, as a student I reviewed materials throughout each semester. My assumption is that many students want that same ability to review and learn at their own paces. For assignments, I like detailed handouts with all due dates at the top. I describe the assignment, the objectives, the grading criteria, and mention any additional resources available to help complete

School Approaches

Although I am complaining lately that my syllabi, lecture notes, quizzes, and homework prompts have yet to be finished, the reality is that I look forward to the start of school and the return to scheduled, predictable days… and a paycheck. I'd be content sitting at home and writing. That would be my perfect existence, except I also need money for food, shelter, and some entertainment. Teaching about the topics I enjoy is a pretty good compromise for survival. I enjoy teaching, since it does connect to my passions. School for me isn't about seeing old friends or being in familiar surroundings. Instead, it is about the books and the opportunity to learn. The idea that I'll be challenged to learn something, to try something, that's what excites me. As I've written many times, the "year" is an academic year in my mind. July starts the new year, as I receive class assignments and start preparing for the first days on campus in August. The year ends wit

Musical Play Needs Sponsors (LGBTQ, Race, Religion, More)

My wife and I are from Central California. The region is hard to explain to outsiders, because people assume "California" means L.A. and San Francisco, yet geographically those are little dots within a sea of socially conservative counties. To this day, it feels more like the Deep South (circa 1976) than anywhere else I have been -- and I've been to the South. I wrote the play The Gospel Singer  many years ago, but it wasn't finished and developed until 2013. In a few short weeks, the play will premier in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania... in another region where race, religion, and daily life can seem stuck a couple of decades in the past. We need to keep raising money to get this play and its message heard. News Articles and Context First, it helps to know the Tulare County, Calif., where the play is set, was home to the self-proclaimed "new KKK" of the 1980s and 90s. There were also active "Moral Majority" groups, drawing from the large Evang

Carnegie Mellon Statistician Roeder Finds Genetic Risk for Autism

Press Release: Using New Statistical Tools, Carnegie Mellon's Kathryn Roeder Finds Genetic Risk for Autism Stems Mostly From Common Genes -Carnegie Mellon News - Carnegie Mellon University I've written before about spontaneous, de novo, genetic variation and autism. The theory, which I consider favored by current research, is that genetics represent the primary  factor contributing to autistic traits. Now, with statistical modeling, researchers find a likely correlation between genetics and autism. If mild autistic traits are within inherited genetics, this suggests autistics are somewhere along the "spectrum" based on which  additional  variations occur. "Within a given family, the mutations could be a critical determinant that leads to the manifestation of ASD in a particular family member," said Joseph Buxbaum, the study's first author and professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mou

New Play: A New Death World Premier

This is why I haven't been blogging a lot this summer. I've been working on several new plays…  A NEW DEATH A World Premiere By C.S. Wyatt Directed By Kaitlin Kerr Assistant Directed By Sarah McPartland Presented by Throughline Theatre Company   July 18 - July 26 The Grey Box Theatre 3595 Butler St, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15201 TICKETS:   Featuring: Andy Coleman  Chelsea Faber Hazel Carr Leroy Eric Leslie  Tonya Lynn  Sarah McPartland Jared King Rombold  John Henry Steelman

Support a Theatrical Production with Purpose…

The LAB Project , a new Pittsburgh, PA, theatrical company, is producing my musical play The Gospel Singer  this August. The producer hopes to raise an additional $4000 for community outreach and education efforts. The play is about a gay gospel singer and his partner, during the 1980s. It's based loosely on real people. The play was awarded a development slot by Bricolage Production Company last year, as part their annual "In The Raw" festival. Some people ask if a play about a gay couple arguing about faith and community is still relevant in 2014. Yes, it is. Laws are changing, and society is changing, but understanding the struggles are incomplete — especially within religious communities — is a valuable lesson. Please consider supporting The LAB Project.

Abuse and Autism

Autistic traits can contribute to being abused and exploited by others, as the following survey data suggest: Half of [UK] autistic adults 'abused by someone they trusted as a friend' A startling 44% of those questioned admitted they stayed indoors as much as possible for fear of being harassed. Almost a third reported having had money or possessions stolen, while 37% had been forced or manipulated into doing something they didn't want to do by someone they thought of as a friend. Almost half (49%) of the 1,300 people surveyed reported having been abused by someone they thought of as a friend. Being bullied is, unfortunately, part of life for many people. The small, the weak, the different, will be bullied. There might be evolutionary and cultural explanations for power dynamics, but we should resist our worst natures. I'm less and less trusting, but it took me more than 40 years to realize how many people have no moral compass. I still make mistakes, assuming the

Whatever Happened to Book 2.0?

I was recently asked whatever happened to my planned update to Spectrum of Relationships . The simple answer: I have been distracted by more interesting (to me) things and didn't really push to get the book updated. I'm not nearly as involved in autism advocacy in Pennsylvania as I was in Minnesota. I don't speak to groups, I'm not connected to any schools or service providers, and I don't receive the same volume of questions. The lack of engagement means I don't feel the same need to gather my thoughts for autistics, their families, and care providers. There are plenty of books on autism. Maybe there are too many. Yes, my book should be updated, and it might happen someday, but other projects that offered more feedback captured my attention and energies. The first edition was (is) mediocre. I know it needs to be better. But, without much feedback, I don't perceive the demand for a new edition. Maybe I'll get back to work on the book this fal

Autistic Artists and Creatives

As a creative writer, I find that a handful of autism advocates dismiss the creativity of HFA/AS individuals as evidence that artists are "really" autistic. These critics suggest that the savants with autism are genuine, but not those of us with careers. Yesterday, I ran across yet another mention of the "Shining Aspie" narrative, and how artists and educators with various diagnoses don't really represent "genuine" autism. Are you an artist? A creative? (And aren't we all "creatives" to some extent?) How do you respond to claims that art, which is emotional and empathetic, represents autistic experiences?

My Wife's View of the 'Autistic Me'

A reader asks, "If you don't think about the autistic traits, what about your wife? They tend to notice what husbands fail to see in the mirror." Is my wife be more aware of my "autistic" traits than I am? Probably. I suppose the above is true of all friends and family in our lives. The people observing us probably do see us for whatever we are, more clearly than we can see ourselves. She knows how annoyed I get with myself, which might help her tolerate me a little more. I dislike how locked in I get to thoughts, how much I worry constantly about failing at things, how tense I get in various situations. She knows I don't like my sensitivities, my fears, and my general anxiety. My wife reminds me to accept my limits, though I hate those limits. She tries to maintain order and calm, knowing how much I hate disorder in my life. I don't like to be told the obvious though: my mind doesn't let go of things, even when I wish it could. She'll te

The Pain of Memories

I don't generally speak of it, but driving on the shortest Interstate between Pittsburgh and our house upsets me most times. But, it saves about 20 minutes if I'm in a hurry to get home. I need to decide between the emotional stress, the memories it triggers, and the convenience of getting home quickly. (The "quick" route is only fast when driving toward home — it is the worst imaginable path into the city.) Usually, I'll opt for the circuitous (and less stressful) drive that takes me on three different Interstates and two state routes. The problem is, there's no way skip around the symbols (and traffic signs) that upset me if I want to go to the best grocery store, bookstores, music store, restaurants, and a good mall. So, I feel lousy getting to whatever I want to do. That's hard to explain to other people. If I could clear my mind, and ignore the signs that upset me, that would make life more comfortable.

Cities and (in)Sanity

Now, for some paradoxes about where we choose to live. Greater Pittsburgh, as a community, has proved to be a great place for my wife and me. The region, which includes parts of West Virginia and Ohio, offers excellent opportunities for people like us. But, those opportunities come with a cost. Before reviewing the toll I pay for working in Pittsburgh, I wish to list the amazing benefits of the Steel City: I teach at a top-ranked research university, among the best in the world; My plays have received public readings (and, soon, stagings) by some of the most supportive actors, directors, and crews possible; I can walk large sections of the city, after I find parking, avoiding mass transit; and My office is a short walk from one of the largest urban parks in America and the Phipps Conservatory. But, cities still exhaust me. As a result, I commute an hour or more each direction so we can live in the exurbs. People consider where we live to be "country" though I co

What Titles Mean

Hamerschlag Hall is one of the principal teaching facilities of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Photo credit: Wikipedia ) For the 2014-15 academic year, my title will be "Visiting Assistant Teaching Professor of Business Communication." Reading this long title on my contract, I considered how labels and titles, beyond "disabled" and whatnot, shape how people view us. And so, an analysis: Visiting: not expected to remain; a guest; a traveler heading elsewhere. Assistant: working to aid others. Teaching: responsible for educating, with any research duties subordinate. Professor: respected for past academic accomplishments. Business Communication: specializing in workplace communication, instead of academic discourse. The full title implies my role is to teach classes in the business school so other professors can focus on research. It is a temporary post, one that many scholars hold at an institution before locating a permanent position.

Am I the Autistic Me or Not?

Every few months, online or in real (physical) life, I hear the skeptical, questioning, puzzled phrase, "You're not autistic. You can't be." I've addressed the question here many times, and I still lack a single good response. The "positive" versions: Because you are successful, self-expressive, driven, and have a career, it is hard to believe you are autistic. Because you are considered intelligent… Because you did well in school… Because you have a wife, good relationship with family, and seem to lead a "normal" life (especially for an introvert)… Because I've never seen a meltdown, non-verbal day, shaking, stereotypical behaviors… The "negative" versions: You must be lying to get attention. You played the neurologists for suckers. You are merely an awkward geek, like other smart people. You are using autistic traits as an excuse for being lazy. The reality is more complex, as it always is. Here's my cur

Bad Advice: "Just Ignore the Jerks" and My Memory

Ignoring people isn't something I can do. There is no "polite mode" with my lack of executive function. If someone is a jerk, I tell the person, at that moment. That's something non-autistics never quite grasp, either. My wife has known me for 30 years and forgets that I have no mental editor. Unfortunately, I also relive moments, visually and aurally, for years after the incident. It is a mental film loop, playing repeatedly every day of my life. It is unpleasant, especially since one bad moment with a person or group is the moment that sticks with me for decades. If someone is rude, insulting, or cruel, that person has become a life-long miserable memory that can be triggered by the slightest thing. So, the best option is to avoid potential jerks.

Research and Teaching

I am considering two possible full-time posts at the university where I teach part-time. I love where I teach and shifting to full-time would enable me to better support the local performing arts. The university supports my artistic endeavors, and that's refreshing. Accepting a post does not require scholarship if I wish to maintain "teaching track" status in the future, but an administrator told it would be "icing on the cake" and has led to teaching-track faculty being awarded research support and rank promotion (associate, full, etc.). A few colleagues have suggested I compose a research agenda statement and pursue publishing on my dissertation topic. My doctoral research topic was autistic students and online education, though I also conducted two grant-supported surveys on the general experiences of autistics in college writing courses. To revise and publish the research would be a serious undertaking, but I believe one that would serve the community and th

Autism Awareness Blahs

My wife and I like to take walks along the main street (actually, Third Street) of the nearby township. It is something out of a movie — even the park gazebo was donated to the community after a film wrapped. My wife said last night that the village across the way looks like something built for a model railroad layout. We live in Middle America, Hollywood-version. And so, walking past the large, sky-blue puzzle pieces taped to store windows, the blue ribbons, the flyers, all these signs of "Autism Awareness" neither surprises nor pleases me. If anything, it annoys me to have "Autism" plastered all over cars, stores, and various products. I want to shout, "Stop it!" (Want to know more about the autism puzzle and the perspective of autistic adults? See: ) Personally, I hate stickers and magnets on cars. Bumper stickers? How can you put a sticker on a huge investment, r

Autism Awareness, Acceptance... Whatever

April is autism something-or-other month, depending on whom you ask. It's all about "acceptance" or "awareness" or "diversity" or "celebration" or "pride" — and I'm sure a few other concepts. To this, I respond with a busy, preoccupied, "Whatever." I get that people want to find support, inspiration, connections, and resources. I'm all for helping people, especially autistic teens and adults, find ways to achieve all they can. If autism month helps people find those supports, great. But, what I dislike is the absurdity of the news media during this annual panic-feeding month. Put the risks in context: You want to know what "caused" my autistic traits? Birth trauma. Period. And sure enough, that's number two on the list of risk factors, right beneath an autistic twin. But, easy explanations aren'

Age and Connections

When I was young, I wanted to be an adult. I related more to my teachers than to other students as early as first and second grade. I was interested in current events, the stock market, and science. I was an outsider among my peers. Now, I relate more to young people than to my peers. It is not an intellectual connection, but I wonder if my emotionally development stalled out at the mental age of 20-something. I was emotionally 25 at ten, and 26 emotionally in my 40s. That would be an interesting phenomena. Stuck in a narrow emotional range? Being aware that something is wrong, different about me, is a strange sensation. Do others experience this odd out of synch sensation?

Hanging Out with...?

Hanging out with friends seems to be something that most of my Facebook "friends" do on a weekly basis. Some seem to be hanging out nightly. They are the social butterflies I sometimes envy, because social skills matter personally and professionally. I don't get random emails, messages, or phone calls from people asking, "What are you doing tonight?" I can't recall the last personal, non-work message, that was not initiated by me. People don't reach out to me without a reason. Several people have said I make others uncomfortable one-on-one. Lecturing? Public speaking? Those are not a problem. But there is something "off" with my interpersonal skills. Even if I had great social skills, I would I spend time alone so I could write and be creative. I know socially adept introverts. Wanting space doesn't mean you are socially awkward. Of course, I am so socially inept and an introvert. So, on the rare occasions when I do want to hang ou

Simple Games Relax the Mind

Solebon [ ] was the best solitaire game for the Palm OS. When I migrated to an iPod Touch, I was thrilled when Solebon was ported to my new PDA platform. Now, with Solebon on my iPhone and iPad, I play several games a day. My favorites remain the traditional Klondike games (deal one or three) and Free Cell. Think back to Windows 3 and classic "Burning Monkey" solitaire on the old Mac System 7, and that's about all the complexity I want in a game. I also play Columns, Collapse, Tetris, Lemmings, Supaplex, and Pipe Dream to relax. I like the simple puzzle games that I can start and stop. Sure, there are nights for chess and maybe Scrabble, but for the most part I like quick, five-minute breaks from the routine. Puzzle games clear my head so I can get back to work. The breaks help. The appeal of realistic first-person games escapes me. I would rather play Pac-Man any day. Anyone else enjoy the classic games as a way to relax? I'd like to im

Overload Wins Some Days

Naps and extra sleep help a little, but after too much social interaction and too much stress, I need some time to compose myself and prepare for yet more socializing. I'm not alone: most introverts experience this same need to recharge alone, in a quiet space. For me, the quiet space isn't silent. It's walking around the track with my wife. It's sitting with a cat in my lap. It could be baking, writing, or engaging in some sort of activity. People confuse my need for "less input" with a desire for "no input." Those are not the same. I actually relax more with my wife and my cats than when I am alone. But, I don't want to be around crowds or in loud spaces. I want to be able to decompress, not experience isolation. This is an incredibly busy year. Teaching two courses, working on three new plays, revising five plays that are in development, and trying to maintain my other to-do items. It's a lot for me, and maybe too much at this mom

Empathy and Writing

Writing for stage requires some understanding of the motivations and emotions of the characters that appear before an audience. Sometimes you also have to appreciate unseen characters that either shaped or continue to shape events and other characters. Writing, therefore, is exercise in empathy and more. If you cannot imagine how others feel, you cannot write effective dialogue. You must think like another person, and that person might be "good" or "bad" in ways the writer is not. My writing process includes research, interviews, and working with a dramaturg. I recognize that I miss things, especially when what people say isn't what they mean. By working with collaborators, I learn more about people and writer better stories. I was asked if my autistic traits make me a better, or worse, writer. I have no idea. What makes me a small success is that I listen to people and try to incorporate the best suggestions I receive into my works. I listen to the act

A Little Bit of Activism

In January, 2014, I was elected to the board of directors for the Advisory Board on Autism and Related Disorders (ABOARD), Autism Connection of Pennsylvania. For information about ABOARD's Autism Connection services, visit . Readers know that I'm not a rally or march type of activist. My activism is quiet, personal, and usually through engagement with students and educators. I speak to groups whenever asked, providing my perspective and offering advice when possible. This one-on-one and small-group activism is more comfortable, and I believe the most effective use of my skills. Simply doing my job is a form of activism. I don't claim to be a role model and I don't intend to inspire others. What I do is demonstrate that those with various physical and neurological challenges can be, and should be, productive members of our communities. ABOARD supports individuals through education, job training, and social skills supports. The purpose o

Life is Busy, and That is Good

It is possible that all two or three of my regular followers have noticed the relative inactivity of this blog. Though I have tried to consider if there's anything of value to share, the simple fact is that nothing is compelling me to write about autism, autistic culture, autism causes, or anything of the sort at the moment. In a week or two, I'll have a real post about autism activism and a new role I am assuming, but I want to wait until things are a bit more formalized. As readers know, I'm not as outspoken or passionate about some issues as other autism activists, preferring to work quietly on issues of training and support for autistics. Our lives here have been busy, and when I am busy I do let the blogging slip. This is especially true when life is busy in a good way and I don't have a need to complain, gripe, or criticize the world around me. Quite simply, life is busy in a good way. Okay, good in all ways except for a cold I also gave to my wife. The

Executive Function

From the "Ask a Question" area… My son has Aspergers and he is very bright. However, I think what is difficult is that he has difficulty in Executive Function and I feel this will affect his learning as he grows older. Did you have the difficulty in EF and how did you cope with it? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Executive function (and, therefore, executive dysfunction) refers to one's ability or inability to organize daily routines required to function optimally in relationships, at school, at work, and within any community. When someone lacks impulse control, focus, and the ability to prioritize tasks, that individual suffers from impaired executive function. To describe me as "scattershot" would be generous. Finishing projects requires Herculean efforts, and I admit that more often I fail than succeed when it comes to my to-do list. Projects end up almost done, and I have the boxes of work to prove it. Getting through the day can be a challenge

Day One, Survived!

Each new semester begins with anxiety, doubt, fear, and insecurity. Teaching means standing before a group of people, trying to convince them you are going to say and do something worthy of attention. This was difficult teaching at a mid-range state university, a land-grant research university, and even a small private college. I don't care where you teach, you know that part of the job is rhetorical — persuading an audience to follow along. Now, I teach at one of the top universities in the world, in a top-ten program. These students are the best of the best. These are not only the perfect SAT/ACT scores, they are also the student council presidents, drama club stars, musicians, and more. They are so talented it is often beyond my comprehension. And I'm expected to help them learn about writing, public speaking, and general rhetoric. Surviving the first day without a panic attack or meltdown? That's a victory. By week three, I'm fine, but those first two we

(Lack of) Sleep Schedule

Until the last year or so, I fought insomnia on a weekly, even nightly, basis. Stumbling into a regular sleep schedule for the last year has been nice. And now it seems to have ended. I'm back to a shifted, annoying, non-sleep schedule. I've tried wine, coffee (yes, it puts me to sleep), various teas, and watching Murder She Wrote mini-marathons on the Hallmark Channel. Nothing seems to work. School starts in a week, and I need to be on a regular schedule. While I do not teach until noon, my office hours start at 10 a.m. and I need to leave for campus an hour earlier. That means waking up by 7:30 a.m. each morning… and I am not  a morning person. Four hours of sleep, maybe less, won't be enough. We did join a gym, so I am hoping that regular exercise helps. By this weekend, the weather should be nice and we'll be back to walking three nights a week and three trips to the gym. I know that I won't be able to maintain a perfect schedule with the exercise, tho